Approximately 350 million people worldwide have arthritis. Pretty shocking, given the fact that these statistics don’t even include the individuals who aren’t officially diagnosed.
So what can cannabis for arthritis achieve with a disease that most people take pain meds for? Well, quite a lot, actually. But first, we need to learn a little bit more about arthritis, and what it means for those who have it.
What is Arthritis?
Contrary to popular belief, arthritis isn’t just one single disease. It is essentially an informal way of referring to chronic inflammation, joint pain, or joint disease. A broad reach for any serious disease, arthritis is an umbrella term used for over 100 different conditions relating to swelling, inflammation, and joint stiffness.
The initial symptoms of arthritis are usually stiffness, especially in the morning, pain and swelling around the joints. Then the other symptoms become more evident: you get tired more quickly than you used to, restless sleep becomes typical, and over time it progressively becomes difficult to move joints and even to use your own hands. There are many different types of arthritis, and equally many causes: improperly healed injuries lead to degenerative arthritis, genetic factors are usually the main cause of osteoporosis, a dysfunctional immune system can lead to lupus or RA, abnormal functioning of metabolism causes gout.
Types of arthritis can include:
– Back pain
– Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
– Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
– Inflammatory Bowel Disease
– Lyme Disease
– Spinal Stenosis
While arthritis is incredibly common, it still remains a very misunderstood disease. It is so broad, that its classification literally means “inflammation of one or more joints.” You could pretty much put that classification on just about any disease.
Arthritis likes to settle in weight-bearing joints like the hips, knees and spine, but it can also afflict non-weight-bearing joints such as those in the fingers.
Cannabis for Arthritis
Given that arthritis is an inflammatory condition, and cannabis beats inflammation, it is not that surprising that people are turning to cannabis for arthritis relief.
When researchers first noticed that cannabis has some potential in treating chronic pain, they basically didn’t have a clue how that actually happens. They first discovered that the joints of people suffering from arthritis have extremely high levels of CB1 receptors. That led them to conclude that the substances in marijuana which trigger the activation of those receptors have the potential to reduce inflammation, as well to reduce pain.
The fact that THC was the one binding to those receptors and that it was so effective in reducing inflammation, triggered the further curiosity of scientists. So, in another study, a group of researchers discovered that THC was able to change molecules, leading to suppression of inflammation.
The second most prevalent cannabinoid in marijuana called cannabidiol (or just CBD), has shown to be effective in treating arthritis symptoms as well. According to a study done by the University of Kentucky, applying CBD topically can relieve inflammation as well as pain in conditions connected to arthritis. What is also important, besides the great therapeutic potential, is that CBD provides relief without any side-effects. Another study found that early CBD treatment can prevent pain and nerve damage in osteoarthritic joints.
Our body naturally produces endocannabinoids that stimulate and modulate these two receptors. Similarly, cannabis contains phytocannabinoids (like THC and CBD) that are closely related and molecularly similar to endocannabinoids. These phytocannabinoids also interact and modulate the CB1 and CB2 receptors, which produces a wide range of physiological effects.
A study published in the journal Rheumatology from Dr. Sheng-Ming Dai of China’s Second Military Medical University found that CB2 receptors are found in unusually high levels in the joint tissue of arthritis patients. This led the researchers to conclude that cannabis is key to activating those receptors, thus reducing pain and inflammation.
Canadian researcher Dr. Jason McDougall, a professor of pharmacology and anesthesia at Dalhousie University in Halifax, has undertaken a new study to find out if medical marijuana can help repair arthritic joints and relieve pain. The study, supported by the Arthritis Society of Canada, was given a grant for a comprehensive, three-year study to investigate if cannabis repairs the joints by fighting inflammation, or if it is simply just dampening the pain response in the brain.
President and CEO of The Arthritis Society, Janice Yale, stated that:
People living with arthritis pain are looking for alternatives to improve their quality of life. We need research to help answer the many important questions about medical cannabis and its use. Our goal is to give Canadians the ability to make informed choices about their treatment options and to give physicians evidence-based guidelines to make treatment recommendations for their patients. This project is an important step to achieving those goals.
McDougall told CBC Radio’s Information Morning the following when asked to describe the nerves of an arthritis sufferer:
The nerves are like wires that have been stripped of their coating. They’re all bare, they’re all raw and responsible for feeling a lot of pain. What we hypothesize is that by locally administering these cannabis-like molecules to those nerves, we’d actually be able to repair them and reduce the pain of arthritis.
McDougall’s findings have so far shown that cannabis molecules can attach themselves to nerve receptors and control the firing of pain signals in the joint.
Another study published in the journal of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B found that the body’s endocannabinoid system releases antioxidants that help repair damaged cells when it becomes triggered by outside cannabinoids.
The evidence seems compelling enough for anyone to trust that cannabis really does help those suffering from arthritic conditions. Some individuals have even gone as far as juicing raw cannabis to help alleviate their arthritis. The results? Inspiring to say the least.
Juicing Raw Cannabis for Arthritis
McDougall’s preliminary findings have actually been proven in some anecdotal circumstances. Take Katie Marsh from Maine, a sufferer of rheumatoid arthritis who was on prescription prednisone and antibiotics for years before she discovered cannabis. Her doctors encouraged her to take disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDS), but the side effects were so intense that she finally decided to seek out the advice of a physician who specialized in dietary cannabis.
After speaking with the physician, Marsh began juicing raw cannabis and blending it into smoothies. She also consumed the whole plant, raw. The results she experienced were immediate. Within just a few days, Marsh went off prednisone and pain killers. After just 11 months of regular cannabis juicing, Marsh’s condition went into remission.
THC or CBD?
Cannabis contains both CBD and THC, but they differ from one another in that THC is psychoactive (gets you “high”), and CBD is non-psychoactive (doesn’t get you “high”).
As for which one works best with arthritis, both come with their own benefits. Both CBD and THC are useful for relieving inflammation in the body, but some people might prefer CBD as it doesn’t come with psychoactive effects.
CBD is particularly desirable for those with specific autoimmune conditions, as it works to enhance and improve the state of ones immune system.
CBD bonds best with CB2 receptors, making it easier to battle inflammation in the joints, whereas THC bonds best to CB1 receptors to give individuals relief from chronic pain. It is also good for anxiety and depression, two conditions that often plague the minds of those with debilitating conditions like arthritis. If choosing a THC strand of cannabis – go for indica over sativa, as it calms and relaxes the body more than stimulating the creative mind (that is, unless, you’re feeling a little creative).
Best strains for arthritis
Before you start experimenting with different strains for arthritis, think about your lifestyle and what you would like to achieve. What time of the day do your symptoms occur? Would you rather treat inflammation or the pain? Do you have difficulties sleeping? The key here is to choose the right strain: some are energizing, some are sedative, some have a lot of THC, while some are high in CBD. To speed up your search, I made a list of different kinds of strains, for different occasions.
Please take these recommendations with a grain of salt, as the effects of cannabis are notoriously subjective.
Cannatonic: One of the most popular medical hybrid strains, Cannatonic is known for its high CBD levels and low THC content. It’s mainly used for treating all sorts of pain as well as muscle spasms, which makes it one of the favorites among arthritis patients. It’s great for relaxing during the day.
Anesthesia: The name says it all—it kills any type of pain in no time. Anesthesia is an indica strain recommended for nighttime use since it’s very sedating. It will give you a strong body-high and a cerebral buzz, so the best time to use it is only after you have finished with your day.
GSC: Also known as Girl Scout Cookies, GSC is a hybrid known for its high THC levels. It’s usually recommended for severe pain. Besides pain, GSC is good for beating stress and depression (a common condition for arthritis patients).
Harmonia: Although it’s an indica, Harmonia will not make you as sedated and locked to your couch as you would expect. And this is because this strain has slightly higher levels of CBD than THC, which diminishes its psychoactive effects. You’ll be clear-headed and ready for your daily challenges.
Harlequin: What’s so great about this strain is that it relaxes without sedation and intoxication. Harlequin is a sativa-dominant hybrid, with high CBD content. It’s a popular strain for fighting inflammation and pain, especially pain caused by arthritis.
Remedy: A high CBD indica, Remedy has been primarily used for treating nerve inflammation pain. We can freely say that there are almost no psychoactive effects with this strain. Arthritis patients looking for relief can use Remedy during the day without worrying about feeling “high’.
ACDC: One more sativa-dominant hybrid that doesn’t alter the mood and mind. ACDC is a popular daytime strain with plenty of medical properties and almost no psychoactivity at all. What is so special about this strain is that it flushes pain out almost immediately.
Pennywise: A fine choice for an afternoon use, since it provides a mild psychoactive effect. This strain not only blocks pain, but it also helps other conditions and symptoms that come with arthritis, like neurological disorders.
Death Star: A very powerful indica that will make you quite high. Death Star is a perfect late afternoon choice, with high THC levels to take care of pain and will help you fall asleep.
Power Plant: Being a pure sativa, Power Plant is a perfect way to start your day. This strain has bone-protecting properties and, combined with pain-relieving features, is one of the best strains for arthritis patients.
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